VINOS PATIO AIRE 2009

A shade of light, rust nouveau, I didn't know existed. How often do you encounter a Jupiter-like, deep orange due to fate & age and not the craze that is orange wine? This wine is beyond "orange".

The nose is so aromatic, I literally cannot think straight. I'm likening it to following Albéñiz or Ravel's ethereal piano pounding. Dried, unsulphured, Turkish apricots, healthy VA "in the right way", (thanks, Kate), and many things erotically out of control. Dried, empty barrel post-harvest, cashews, wet pavement, my mother-in-law's plum jam, burnt Earth. Can sauvage really be tamed?

The wine enters with an authority, a kind one, not pushing its power. Sensual tropical-like stone fruits ensue and then it directly gets to business making itself refreshing. Acid & tannin are in perfect harmony. This doesn't seem a vinous, structural depiction of the harsh Meseta.

The wine shudders quietly, "This is why you do this." Its ability to convey, "what could be" and "what is,” belies comprehension. 

Forlorn Hope + Axis: Bold As Love

Who, in the reading audience, likes the genius that is Jimi Hendrix? Your first experience leaves you asking if you've ever really "experienced". Recently, I was living the riches of Matthew Rorick's (Forlorn Hope) Picpoul & Ost-Itrigen (St. Laurent), Axis: Bold As Love blaring in the background. I couldn't help realize the parallelism these wines ran with the album then it dawned on me, this is one of Matthew's favorites. Serendipity? 

"Exp" is abstract and prepares you for what's ahead, like stretching your thighs before a race. Notes scatter from one speaker to another, the register is out of control. Picpoul emerges on a label from Calaveras County, in the heart of the Sierra Foothills. If you knew what you were getting yourself into, you'd certainly pull the trigger and stretch the legs.

Matthew seems a gentle soul & soft spoken at first. Jimi was known to be incredibly shy. Rorick's wines are riddled w/ bends & whammy bars & runs stretching eight+ frets at once! Jimi's music is infused with an organic & spontaneous fermentation that was & is truly living, capturing imagination and rupturing boundaries.

"Wait Until Tomorrow" seems predictable until you listen to it a sixth time, shaking your head at the background drifts that leave you breathless. The label reads Picpoul. If you've sipped the French version of this grape, you know you're in for something lighter, not too aromatically intense. Mr. Rorick's rendition doesn't take a sixth taste although it's almost a given that's where your tasting will lead. The wine is busting with anything but neutrality, the antithesis of predictable. Did you know Jimi learned to play a right-handed guitar flipped for a lefty, the strings upside down? Matthew has taken Picpoul & knocked any little $10 rendition on its rocker. Picpoul is astoundingly lifted, not weighed down, by older puncheon, like the complimenting bass in "Little Wing", making for an even brighter and elevated electric guitar. Tangy and refreshing, high-pitched acid provides an intriguing solo that will surely provide life ahead. The palate has a breadth that is better than the sum of its parts. Schist + limestone soils + whole cluster press + old oak + heart + soul. Yes please. Medium body meets actual complication in Picpoul & textures you will need to taste to believe.

Let's face it. St. Laurent has seen better days. Many producers in Austria are doing a service by this grape. Many frankly, are not. Ahhh, just smelling Matthew's Ost-Intrigen! The depths of your brain will traipse immediately to St. Laurent of the early 2000s before new oak, color powders, and tannin enhancers. The unique color invites you to take a long whiff - the smell is almost more intoxicating than the palate. How is this stern, floral gem brought to fruition in the Ricci Vineyard in Carneros? Being able to tickle seven frets in one stretch of a hand. Intuition. It's beautifully poised. Ost-Itrigen is anything but tiresome in fact, it's invigorating and lighter than the Picpoul! The tannins are shyly flirting with a kind bitterness that barely exists but lasts. The acid makes you want to run a marathon or eat or quaff! In my mouth exists a retronasal, symphonic replica of the nose; ten months in barrel lends a soft coddling of textural duration. Read: Drink now. Drink in a few years. Drink later (if you can wait that long).

The only distinct different between these two souls... For some, Jimi is a mood. I don't partake in this philosophy but my mother sure does. Matthew's wines are really for any time, any place. I don't say this lightly. Many of the world's best wineries produce wines of occasion or for a certain dish. Matthew's harnessing of his land's potential in vinous form is for the 11am hour, our -20 temperatures, 4p, high sun, late nights, inspirational musing, and enjoying the conversation these wine permit.

These wines are as Bold As Love. Love is meant to be positive never without some repercussion but providing some hope. Forlorn Hope perhaps? 

Experimental trumps spiritual

Resurgences of older techniques & materials throughout various phases of grape growing/winemaking are in surplus as of late. People are reverting back to clay & indigenous woods (palm, chestnut, etc.), longer skin macerations, reviving autochthonous grape varietals on the verge of extinction, and plenty more. The results are, if done correctly, captivating. In our ever-lusting thirst for purpose, experimentation, and melding modern with centuries-old tactics and methods, are there occurrences that take this quest too far?

I recently hit up Chicago toting Jill Mott Selections - a slew of wines from Asturias, Bierzo, and Segovia that certainly satisfied the windy city. While there, I met up with my crew; a band of folks who deeply care about provenance, history, process, and lore. When they taste wine, they go deep - I miss this interaction more than I can utter. Educational bottles were being cracked in earnest, but also with acute standards & meaning. A jolly fellow decided to lug a magnum from his cellar that bode the region Arbois. That's all I will mention for now. An indigenous grape was carefully fermented & aged in a vessel that is receiving accolades for its unbeknownst foresight when first crafted thousands of years ago. The clay this wine was reared in hailed from & was fired some 3,800 km away. This hasn't been the first instance of curiosity/study breeding an ambrosial delight and we all know that so many of the world's greatest wines are not born in even remotely local vessels.

I want to be very clear; I thought the wine was delightful to drink & tasting it decanted versus not decanted was a decent experiment to put it lightly. The native Arbois red grape in Georgian qvevri had an air of disingenuousness about it, certain pieces missing, or maybe it was speckled with false hopes. My crux was that the educational experiment was joyful but didn't seem truthful. Why did this matter? It bothered me the entire flight home & it shouldn't have. The wine was pretty and fun to drink in the company of great comrades in life. Wines from the U.S. are aged in French oak all the time! People in France are aging wine in Spanish clay and in some cases, this clay was dug of  Chinese soil and fired in Spain!

I guess I just pondered this Arbois' potential in wood grown in close proximity to its spiritual home; Neuchatel or Vosges oak perhaps. Something seemed all too commercially exploited about an intrinsic, isolated place such as Georgia (that I already fear will succumb to capitalistic bait) shipping a 1,000L vessel across Europe. Clay feels so alive, historic, rustic, and humble. This experiment felt like a well-read peasant knowing the nobility is trying to blow a fast one by her.

End all be all, the wine was nothing short of delicious but supplied a lack of spiritual authenticity. 

Orval

Over the past 13 years I've come to know Orval quite closely. Few beers deliver this unending cease-to-amaze factor; it drinks as refreshing or thought provoking as you need and is both cherished and gulped depending on your mood. Many have told me that the longer they've consumed a beer, the less attention they actually pay it (probably much like a loved sibling that lives next door - when you see them everyday, you don't ponder their intricacies). Although this may be true for certain wines & brews, I could not imagine it happening with Brasserie d' Orval's one heralded, tri-fermented beer. 

I visited the monastery months ago and had the RARE opportunity to see the inner workings of the brewery. My guide made it known on several occasions that this was an unusual circumstance (hand selling Orval for 15 years and having a devout Catholic traveling with me seemed to be my ins). I expected the space to feel spiritual and well, like a brewery; loud at times, bustling with activity. The placidity however, was astounding and the smell of nascent Orval permeating my clothes for hours afterward was a welcome surprise I will never forget. 

The history of the monastery & brewery are well documented in books and websites so I won't go into that here. A few little known details about this serene backwoods hamlet: The brewery operates two days per week and is at capacity. Not willing to raise production has met with pleas for more beer from the national & international markets. They brew enough to satisfy financial needs (55% of profits are donated to charity) and this makes the current output satisfactory. People pine after this miraculous beer stemming from the water, attention to detail, and three very closely monitored fermentations. The main fermentation lasts four days, the second takes place in horizontal tanks w/ brettanomyces + dry hops (of Belgian + Slovenian origin) for four weeks. The young beer goes through a final mini-fermentation/conditioning in bottle via a dose of candy sugar + yeast at bottling and will finish in the maturation hall over the course of three to four weeks. 

There were many historical tales told over the course of my visit. I was lucky in my encounters with a few head brewers, markedly skeptical in the release of decades-old methods. My swearing to secrecy with at least a few crucifixes in eye's view will not render them on this virtual page but I thank them for confiding in a trustworthy soul. Whilst wondering a tunnel under the main modern chapel, I found my name etched in stone, no other names or etchings in sight. I knew traveling 4,200 miles was where I needed to be in that moment.  

The ruins are awe-inspiring, the tale, mythical. The beer is one of Belgium's best and when two, three, four, five years old... This beer too is living... 

Blind tasting + current terroir notions

Blind tasting is a rather brilliant skill that requires sagaciousness and phenomenal sensory memory. A dash of good luck doesn't hurt either.

Lately, whenever I blind taste, I'm fascinated with our current terroir associations. A word that encompasses centuries if not millennia of distilling evolutionary & cultural change seems surely marked with modern-day viticultural & enological advances. If I polled 100 sommeliers from around the world and asked them to describe [name a famous worldly region here], I'm certain I would receive succinct, fairly accurate descriptors via their experiences with said region. These adjectives can be stripped down to reflect a genesis worth mentioning: Cultured yeasts, temperature-control, stainless steel, excessive SO2... In reality, the majority of our sensory memories we use to judge and decipher wines are bulked with technological advancements that do anything but shine light on true fields, surroundings, natural/honest cellar practices, and vintage variation. Hmmmm. Is terroir the correct word then?

The above elements of wine making can make for delicious wine no doubt, but a direct reflection of where the fruit/wine is from? Hundreds of years of wisdom collected cum snapshot of a place? Nowadays we're familiar with winemakers having access to great quality organic and biodynamic fruit, fermenting via indigenous yeasts, fermenting/ageing in vessels native to their region (chestnut/acacia/etc.), using less SO2 than in the past, and dealing with warmer climates thus able to pick certain grapes in northerly climates with more consistent, earlier ripening cycles. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Intrinsic winemakers are delivering wines reminiscent of Vouvray but hailing from the Central Coast in California! Is this what California is capable of? Is this the beginnings of new terroir in action in the making? What about the hundreds of producers throughout Europe and beyond crafting the most honest and challenging natural wines of our times that do not reflect terroir based on a mere 50 years of sensory memory but a most pure expression of their land and surroundings and availabilities?

All this to say, I think the word, "terroir" will be even more leaded 100 years from now than it is today and just as yeasts are so intricately distinct from one parcel to the next, there will be thousands more terroirs to distinguish between. Thank you to all the vignerons who farm and live their grapes and vines. Thank you for giving us these thousands of new intricacies to even attempt to discern. We'll need all the luck we can when we decide to brown bag...